Self-Deception in the Church?


I was invited to minister to a congregation of thousands at a Sunday service in Asia. During a pause in the worship before I stood up to speak, the worship leader said something to the effect that everyone had been healed of their infirmities by faith. For emphasis he raised his hand, and a thousand hands went up in dutiful agreement with him that they had been healed. Had all of them really been healed? No, they were simply healed “by faith.” This practice is based on Mark 11:24.

Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

The people believed that they had already received their healing, and according to this verse, the healing would be theirs. There are miraculous healings in the gospels that may be based upon this Scripture. In Luke 17, for example, ten lepers were healed when by faith they obeyed Jesus and went to show themselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed.

The problem is that it was relatively rare for Jesus to heal people in this way. If frequency of mention in the gospels is an indication of how often Jesus healed in a particular way, the overwhelming majority of his healing miracles were performed instantly and on the spot. The infirm usually did not need to exercise faith in order to receive their healing later at a future time. There is considerable discrepancy between what we see in the gospels and what we see in the Church today with regard to healing.

In the gospels and Acts we read of many supernatural healings. We believe with all our heart that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that He heals the sick today as He did two thousand years ago. Unfortunately we do not see today the frequency of healing miracles that are recorded in the New Testament. Yet to our credit we somehow cling to the belief that God heals. The irony is that when taken to an extreme this has led to what might appear from the outside to be self-deception. Today believers are no longer healed in the way the sick were often healed by Jesus in the gospels. Instead we are now healed “by faith,” whether or not we are really healed. (And if our healing is not forthcoming as is often the case, it is because we “lack faith.”) I suspect that for many who have been believing in this way and waiting a long time for their healing, their participation in this practice has become little more than dutiful mental assent to a tired charismatic tradition.

Such perseverance in the face of harsh reality may be commendable. But nevertheless we should not avoid the question: where are the “real” miracles? Why do they occur only in the meetings of certain superstar ministers but are otherwise very rare? What about certain Scriptures which teach about ordinary believers healing the sick?

Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. …17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

There are two issues that jump out immediately from these Scriptures. The first and more substantive one is that of context.

In the verses from Mark 16, the context of believers placing their hands on sick people is clearly evangelistic. The miraculous healings are signs to accompany and confirm the truth of the gospel to the lost. Similarly, in John 14:6 Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father. According to verse 11 later in the same chapter, the evidence of the truth of this declaration is the miracles that He did. Then in verse 12 Jesus promises that His disciples will do these same miracles for clearly the same evangelistic purpose as He did them.

Today the context of healing has shifted markedly away from being an evangelistic weapon for winning the lost to that of being a blessing to infirm believers. Healing services are predominantly events where sick believers can be touched by the compassion and healing power of the Lord. Few will object to believers being healed, but the original context of healing was primarily as a sign to the lost that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah and the only Savior. Thus the original context of healing has for the most part been lost by the Church. This can partly explain why miracles are rare today.

The second issue is one of methodology. Those who stand strongly on Mark 11:24 as a means of receiving physical healing should look at the verse which immediately precedes it.

Mark 11:23 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

This is primarily how Jesus healed the sick in the gospels. He generally did not pray for them, but rather spoke to the diseases and demons and commanded them to leave with mountain-moving faith. With authority and finality he commanded the lame to get up and walk and the sick to be healed. There was no doubt in his heart that the infirmities and demons would obey his words because he knew the Father had given him authority over them. Because of this authority he fully believed that what he commanded would happen.

The Church is to heal the sick in the same way today. But because of the fear of failure, we dare not. (One might say that because of this fear the Church has set aside the logos and put all if not most of her hope on the rhema—an unhealthy extreme.) We would rather ask and trust the Lord to heal directly. We also put the burden of the healing on the infirm person to have faith to receive the miracle. However, fear of failure is a very poor foundation on which to build a teaching. When you are afraid, you will have doubt in your heart and you will not believe that what you say will happen. Consequently the mountain will not be moved; the miraculous healing will not take place. Teachings based on the fear of failure, however well they appear to be formulated, will not stand the test of Scripture. Needless to say we should not walk in empty boldness and presumption either, but rather on balanced understanding of the word of God. The second reason why the miracles no longer happen as they did two thousand years ago is because the Church no longer heals the sick as Jesus did. Instead we only pray for the sick and trust the Lord to do the rest.

There must then be scriptural balance between Mark 11:23 and Mark 11:24.

Mark 11:23 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Verse 24 teaches that those who desire healing from the Lord should believe for their healing after they pray, something already taught in most “Spirit-filled” churches. To balance this, verse 23 teaches that those who minister the healing should understand and operate in mountain-moving faith. This faith-without-a-doubt based upon the authority over disease and demons given to believers is the kind of faith that will result in the re-emergence of New Testament healing miracles today. This faith issues forth strict commands that will be obeyed by diseases and demons in the name of Jesus Christ. Today the Lord is restoring this mountain-moving faith to His Church.

The current focus of the Church is on a nebulous concept called “the anointing.” However, New Testament Scripture does not teach that we disciples have been given an anointing to minister to others with power. Whenever “anointing” is mentioned in the gospels or in Acts, it refers to that which is on Jesus Himself and not on his disciples. Jesus never rebuked his disciples for lacking “the anointing.” What we lack is something far more basic: mountain-moving faith. We should remember that after the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at the Jordan River (Isaiah 61 and Luke 4), he began to exercise unparalleled authority over diseases and demons through mountain-moving faith. Again, balance must be restored.

Finally we must not neglect the very next verse, Mark 11:25.

Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

For the mountain to move according to our command and the healing to take place after prayer, there must be no unforgiveness as well as unforgiven sin standing between the believer and God. This relatively unexplored area encompasses possibly another reason why miracles are relatively rare today.

Finally, we understand that God is sovereign and that He is the One who ultimately heals through His disciples.

 

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